If you’ve spent the last couple of months practising to sing as perfectly as a real popstar, then I’ve got good news and bad news for you. The bad news is that you spent all that time honing ad-libs for nothing, but the good news is that you can actually buy pitch-perfect vocals! Granted, I’m overstating things a little here, but the question stands: is using pitch-correction software like Auto-Tune the invention of the century, or is it just cheating? Let’s dive into the matter and see what kind of exciting stuff you can do using pitch-correction software like Antares Auto-Tune, Celemony Melodyne and Zynaptiq Pitchmap.

Auto-Tune, Melodyne... Is Using Pitch-Correction Cheating?

The Cher Effect

Back in 1997, Antares shook up the music industry when they released their first version of Auto-Tune: a piece of software that could automatically detect and correct the pitch of vocals or musical instruments as needed. While this corrective process was already possible before Auto-Tune was even released, it was arduous, complex and the results simply weren’t all that great. As with every revolutionary invention, it was only a matter of time before Auto-Tune users started pushing the software to its limits, and one year after its release, it was Cher who scored the first pitch-corrected monsterhit: Believe. Instead of hearing her naturally move from one note to the next, the transitions felt like clear little steps – much like how virtually every trap-rapper sounds these days. Normally, producers want to hide any traces of the use of Auto-Tune as much as possible, but in the case of Cher, it was intentionally used as an effect.

Fast or Slow?

Real-time pitch correction plug-ins generally don’t offer a lot of tweaking potential, since they’re mainly designed to automatically and immediately correct pitch issues. As such, they do a much better job for live vocals or producers and studio techs who aren’t so fond of manual labour. The Speed setting is key when it comes to these plugins, as it determines how fast it should respond. To get the extreme Cher-effect, just set a very fast response time, and for more natural sounding pitch-based tweaks, just use a much slower response. In most plugins, it’s also possible to raise or lower the formants. A formant is a resonance tied to a specific frequency, which helps you to tell vocals apart, meaning formants ‘reveal’ whether you’re listening to a masculine or feminine voice; a baby or a chipmunk, and they even help your ears distinguish between one vowel and another. Also, I’ve only mentioned vocals so far, but bear in mind that pitch-correction tools can also be used to perfect the sound of any musical instrument, provided it has a fixed formant-based pattern.

Scales and Keys

The question is: how does such real-time software know what a perfect note is? Well, Western music only uses twelve different notes. The software analyses the sound and continuously checks for the closest note whenever a specific sound is too far removed from any pure note. While you yourself get to determine the ‘distance’, using pitch-correction software in this so-called ‘chromatic’ mode does mean running the risk of ending up with notes that are out of line with the rest of the song. The average song is based on a smaller selection of the twelve notes in the scale used for most Western music, and this fixed selection is called the key (usually made up of seven notes). As such, pitch-correction software allows you to set the scale (e.g. the major scale) and the key (e.g. the key of C), so you can increase the chances of the software choosing the right notes whenever it corrects an impure one. In other words, it hits note that the singer should’ve hit. By now, you’re probably starting to realise that you need a little knowledge of music theory to be able to understand what pitch-correction software does exactly.

An extreme example of polyphonic pitch-correction: Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’ in major instead of minor:

Pitch Editors

Next to real-time pitch-correction plugins, there are also pitch editors, and Celemony’s Melodyne is a popular example. Pitch editors first analyse any vocals before giving you an overview of all the notes, after which you can automatically correct every note. For the most natural-sounding results, however, it’s best to do the note-correcting manually. Pitch editors also allow you to adjust the timing in case the musician or vocalist is ever a little off during recording, and you can even create completely new parts by adding a second or third voice, or making copies of the original vocals before experimenting with the individual notes. Another interesting feature of modern pitch editors is polyphonic pitch-correction. In the past, pitch-correction software was only able to recognise and correct melodies where a single note is played or sung at a time, meaning correcting something like a guitar chord – where at least three notes are played at the same time – was impossible. Today, the options are a lot less limiting and even include changing the individual pitch of one or more notes within a chord! This way, you can easily change a minor chord into a major chord post-recording, or polish up or take out any incorrect notes within a complex piano part.

Proponents and Opponents

While a Youtube clip showing a dog ‘singing’ perfectly intonated melodies is pretty funny, if you’ve spent years perfecting your singing voice, it can be pretty painful to realise that the voice of many a successful pop singer is backed up by pitch-correction. It might even lead you to wonder if actual skill even matters these days. An often-heard counter-argument in the pitch-correction discussion is that everything and everyone starts to sound the same because of it. Shouldn’t any tiny impurities be considered part of what makes any vocalist unique? Maybe, but at the same time, a unique sound doesn’t sell as well as a popular sound, and unfortunately, the times we live in happen to demand vocal perfection. As such, pitch-correction is often compared to plastic surgery – even if it usually isn’t used to extreme extents. When doing studio work, pitch-correction makes it possible to just use the first take of any vocal or instrumental recording. After all, back in the days before pitch-correction was a thing, vocalists were asked to sing the same line over and over again and, at some point, the inevitable frustration would be audible. On the other hand, don’t forget about the creative potential at play here. For their 2001 record, Amnesiac, Radiohead turned spoken words into melodic lines using Auto-Tune. Without the software, tracks like Revolving Doors wouldn’t have sounded nowhere near as brilliantly awkward.

DIY: Popular Pitch Correction Software

While basic pitch correction plugins and pitch editors often come integrated in DAWs by default, it’s the special software pack that you can pick up separately that offer the highest audio quality and the most extensive options. Before you get yourself any software, always check out the various versions or editions on offer and pick one based on your needs and budget. You might even want polyphonic correction options.

Antares Auto-Tune does what it says it does. The software recognises the pitch of your instrument and corrects things as needed. These days, Auto-Tune includes a graphic mode, just like Melodyne.


Celemony Melodyne goes a little deeper than Auto-Tune. Using Melodyne, it’s possible to edit notes as if they were MIDI notes. Melodyne started out as stand-alone software, but also comes in the form of a DAW plugin these days. Bear in mind that it’s not exactly ‘real-time’.

Zynaptiq Pitchmap is a remix-tool used to edit complete tracks in real-time. This means you can tweak the melodies and harmonies while the music plays. The software can be a heavy burden on your computer’s CPU, but that’s definitely worth it.

Do you firmly believe in life after Auto-Tune or any other popular pitch correction software, or are you part of the non-believers? Feel free to share your opinion in comments!

See Also

» Pitch Correction Plugins
» All Effect Plugins
» DAW Software
» Studio Microphones
» USB Microphones
» All Studio & Recording Gear

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